If you are interested in becoming a Fitness Instructor or Personal Trainer, or already are one, then I am sure that many your potential clients will be motivated to work out with you because they want to; lose weight, look good and feel better about themselves. Instructors and Trainers can share some great skills, knowledge and experience of exercise and nutrition with clients to help them reach their goals. However, I am certain that exercise and nutrition, whilst extremely important, are only part of the weight loss equation.
I fully believe that to help clients lose weight and to keep it off forever, you need to help them to change their lifestyle and attitudes. You need to understand their psychology, comprehending their mind and its relationship with food and exercise. In this article, I will give you some powerful, yet simple, tools of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) which will help you to re-programme your clients mind, creating the right mental attitude for weight loss and maintenance.
I worked in the fitness industry throughout the 1990s and discovered very quickly that it was reasonably easy to sell gym memberships but infinitely harder to get people to stick with their exercise programme for the long-term. I think the average life of a member in the 1990s was 9 months, not sure if it has changed much now in 2017…
I was initially introduced to NLP to help improve my selling technique, using its powerful tools to get people to change their behaviour so that they would join us! But having realised that selling was the easy part and getting members to stick with us a whole other concern, I started to design a programme, using the tools of NLP, which would encourage our members to stay with us for the long-term.
I called my programme Mind Fitness and introduced it to members at a club in Chertsey in 2002. I was amazed when no less than 75 members turned up for the first session! It was obviously something that members were interested in, but after the 6-week course it became apparent that six 1-hour sessions were not going to be enough for these members. They needed constant emotional support to ensure that they stuck with their programme and achieved the results they so desired. There was an obvious solution – Instructors and Trainers! Since then I have presented on the subject of NLP for the Fitness Industry at numerous conferences, and was delighted when Gill Drummond asked if I would write an article for her. I jumped at the chance. I take any opportunity to spread the word on the power of NLP when it comes to behaviour change.
In our lives, we all run ‘programmes’ of behaviour. Some are positive programmes which support us and some negative programmes which debilitate us. Some individuals who are struggling to lose weight will have experienced a number of negative programmes which result in weight gain:
- They may harbour negative emotions like stress and anxiety which result in emotional eating.
- They have bad habits which results in eating the wrong foods.
- They have limiting beliefs about their ability to become a healthy person at all.
- Their priorities are all wrong – in fact, health doesn’t even feature in their top ten of life priorities.
No wonder they have problems with their health. Their emotions, habits, beliefs and values are not supporting them. What they need is some tools in their armoury, tools which help them to make the right decisions for their health.
So, what is NLP?
- Neuro – stands for the brain and nervous system
- Linguistic – stands for the language of the brain
- Programming – is how we act
In all of us we have thousands of ‘programmes’ which we run every day; how to get out of bed, how to shower, how to get dressed, how to brush our teeth, how to choose our breakfast, the list is endless. Most of the programmes we run are supportive for us but some of our programmes are not so good and prevent us from either just being healthy, or stop us from being the person we truly want to be.
If a client approaches you because they want to lose weight, they need to make huge changes to their lifestyle. If they aren’t emotionally supported regularly through these changes, then once the novelty of a new exercise programme has worn off, they will just revert to their old behaviours.
So how do we help them change this storage of information? Well, we can help them manipulate how they have stored their programmes, primarily using their three senses: Visual, Kinaesthetic and Auditory. To break this down into a useable format, I shall introduce you to the Emotional Triad.
Our behaviour is driven by our emotions. If we feel sad, we act a certain way. Likewise, if we feel excited, stressed, happy or motivated, we act in a certain way. If we want to change our behaviour, we need to change the way we feel, and to change the way we feel we need to change:
- Our Visual sense, i.e. what we focus on, the ‘pictures’ that we hold in our head.
- Our kinaesthetic sense, i.e. what we do with our physiology, how we breathe, sit, stand, move, etc.
- Our Auditory sense, i.e. what and how you say things to ourselves.
It’s important at this point to realise that emotions, like feeling motivated, do not just happen to us. We don’t just go out and ‘catch’ motivation. We create it, like every other result in our lives, through specific mental and physical actions. To be motivated we must view our life in specific ways, we have to say certain things to ourselves in the right tones of voice and we must adopt a particular posture and breathing pattern.
We can change the way our client’s feel and hence behave by manipulating these three key senses.
Have you heard of the law of ‘WYSIWYG’? What You See Is What You Get! In 1981, Dr. Richard Suinn using electromyography equipment, discovered that skiers who simply visualised skiing downhill fired electrical impulses and produced muscle patterns almost identical to those found when the skiers actually hit the slopes. Today, top athletes will invariably use visualisation as part of their training programme. They will visualise performing their ‘event’ to perfection, before they execute it.
Knowing this powerful tool, one of the things we can do to help our clients is to teach them to hold a powerful future image of themselves having achieved their goal. Get them to create a future image of themselves, in their minds-eye, being the size and shape they want to be. They can do it with their eyes shut if it is easier. Teach them to become their own movie director and get them to make the image more compelling by adding colour, making it brighter and putting it in focus. Get them to step inside this image in their minds-eye and ‘try it on for size’. Ask them questions like:
- What would it feel like to be this person?
- What would this person be saying to themselves?
- What does this person value as important to them?
Ask them to practice this image every morning when they wake up and every evening before they go to sleep. Many clients who are trying to lose weight generally have a very poor images of themselves and this helps to change the way they think, and also the way the feel about themselves, which in turn will make positive changes to their behaviour.
Emotion is created by motion and hence our body language affects our emotions. In 2014, Social psychologist Amy Cuddy found that our body language physically changes our brains’ chemical composition. Just by what she described as ‘power posing’ for two minutes prior to an interview, not only increased interview candidates testosterone levels (power hormone) and reduced their cortisol levels (stress hormone), it also gave them greater success when being selected for the position.
So, the way we hold ourselves, our physiology, also affects the way we feel. Our clients may at times feel overwhelmed, unconfident or stressed and these emotions may lead to negative behaviours like eating poorly or not working out when they should. We need to ask our client how they would like to feel instead, for example confident, and then practice adopting a confident physiology. Confidence is a good one to work on because high self-confidence and self-esteem results in healthier choices by the individual, solely because they like themselves. Ask them how would they sit, stand, move and breathe, if they were feeling confident. If they can’t do this, ask them if they know of someone who is confident (friend, family member, someone famous) and ask them to copy what they do. Get them practice this new posture for two minutes every morning and evening.
A thought sends a message from our brain via our neurology to our muscles. Our body then behaves in a way as a result of the thought. So, if your clients are telling themselves “I’m fat” or “I’m lazy” or “Diets don’t work for me” or “I lack willpower” then that is the message they are sending to their body.
The problem is that our clients have negative language patterns, lots of them, and these are beliefs that limit them. Limiting beliefs maybe, but also excuses that are holding them back. Unfortunately, we have a problem with the English language – because we say, “I am lazy”, or “I am fat”. If we spoke French for example, we would say ‘I have laziness” or “I have fat”. Having something is very different to being something. When you have something, it is temporary when you are something, it’s permanent!
Our client’s limiting beliefs arise from them trying to change something and failing. The more failures experienced, the more their limiting belief grows. They then probably say to themselves “let’s be realistic” because they fear disappointment if they try really hard again, so they do try, but they hesitate to protect themselves. They do not try fully, they fail again, they say to themselves “told you so” and therefore they get limited results. Many of our clients are on this limiting spiral and cannot get off. They have failed so many times that their limiting beliefs are huge.
You need to find out the limiting belief which is holding your client back and then you need to help them erase it, and change it to something more supportive, because to achieve their goal they must eliminate all doubt. You can do this by starting with asking these five simple questions:
- What is your limiting belief? The belief you have that stops you from becoming the person you want to be?
- Is it true?
- Is it 100% true?
- Who would they be without this thought?
- What would they like to believe instead?
Their new belief must be positive. For example: “I eat healthily and exercise regularly to be slim and feel good about myself.” It can’t be negative, for example: “I am not fat and lazy.” The reason being that the brain doesn’t process the negative – have you ever tried to not think of a chocolate chip muffin! We gravitate towards our dominant thoughts, so if you say you don’t want something, you can almost guarantee that you will get it!
Get them to write down their new belief. Then get them to say it out loud. Every day they need to say this new belief over and over again. If they can they need to repeat it out loud. Say it! Shout it! With conviction! The more believable it sounds the more it’s going to help the, and tell them more than anything to “EXPECT IT!”
It may sound strange to them at first but they need to keep doing it. Act as if they mean it. ‘Fake it till they make it’, or even ‘Fake it till they become it!’ With powerful guiding beliefs, our clients have the power to take action, without powerful beliefs they are like a boat without a rudder.
Out of the three Emotional Triangle senses, I find the ‘Auditory’ sense the most powerful. The way people speak to themselves has such a powerful link to their behaviour. Changing this internal chatter and making it more supportive and positive will directly impact individuals lives, enabling them to make better choices when it comes to their health. I think this poem summarises this in a nutshell:
Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words they become actions.
Watch your actions they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
If you are interested in becoming a personal trainer to work with weight management consider our Personal Training Diploma with Business. We can offer you a long course or short course version depending on your budget. If you would just like some career advice, why not email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call on 0203 326 3009.
Andrea studied at Loughborough University where, after achieving a B.Sc. (Hon’s) in Sport Science, she went onto the be awarded an M.Sc. in Exercise Physiology & Sports Psychology. After working in the fitness industry for 10 years, she qualified as a Master of Neuro Linguistic Programming and then went on to set up her own health and mind-coaching business. She has continued to exercise all her life and has always been conscious of her own diet and exercise programme and more recently with her clients. Hence the human mind and body have always been at the forefront of her mind. She has researched many concepts on weight loss and has now developed her own strategy which enables people to not only lose weight in the short-term but to keep it off forever. She is also author of the book
Mind Over Fatter, available through Amazon.